The Taj Mahal is regarded as one of the eight wonders of the world, and some Western historians have noted that its architectural beauty has yet to be surpassed to this day. ‘Taj Mahal’, which literally means ‘crown of palaces,’ is taken from Persian and Arabic languages and truly lives up to its grand name.
The all white marble mausoleum is located in Agra, Uttar Pradesh, India and was commissioned in 1632 by the Mughal emperor Shah Jahan to house the tomb of his third and most beloved wife, Mumtaz Mahal. The spectacular building stands on the southern bank of the Yamuna River and remains one of the world’s most celebrated structures and a symbol of India’s rich history – in turn making it a bucket list must for many tourists. According to UNESCO, the World Heritage Site, the Taj Mahal attracts some three million people a year. During our tour of India we decided we too had to see this much talked about building for ourselves.
Having rented a private driver while in Delhi by the name of Pramjeet Singh, we set off the very next day to drive the length of The Golden Triangle and our first, and most anticipated stop was Agra. Agra, is Delhi’s smaller sister, but although the population here is far less you wouldn’t know it driving through the crowed streets. Battling our way through the small narrow roads stopping for honking cars, speeding bikes and meandering cows was a sight to see in itself. All at once the aromas and colours flood your senses and you know you’re in the heart of India.
Along the way we stopped to pick up our very own guide, Kahn, a man who has been directing tours around the Taj Mahal for some 40 years. Khan has a world of knowledge not only about the structure itself, but also his much-loved hometown of Agra. Dressed in a suit and dress shoes despite the humid heat, Khan was the picture of professionalism the second we made his acquaintance. Briefing us before we entered he gave us the do’s and don’ts. Don’t accept photos from anyone other than him and do always remove your shoes before entering the Taj. With the practices taken care of we cleared security and made our way through the gates to begin our tour.
The first sight of the Taj Mahal was a breathtaking one. The utter beauty and magnitude cannot be measured. The Taj stands on a raised square platform with its four corners curtailed, forming an unequal octagon. The architectural design uses the interlocking arabesque concept, in which each element stands alone and perfectly integrates with the main structure, Kahn informed us. It uses the principles of self-replicating geometry and symmetry of architectural elements that are so aesthetically pleasing you just cannot look away. The insurmountable construction began around 1632 and was completed some 22 years later, in 1653, taking around 20,000 artists and craftsmen from throughout the empire to complete the structure.
Its central dome is 58 feet in diameter, rises to a height of 213 feet and is flanked by four domed chambers. The entire mausoleum, inside as well as out, is decorated with an intricate inlaid design of flowers and calligraphy using precious gems such as agate and jasper, each done by hand. Later Kahn was kind enough to take us to a workshop to see this incredible craft take place.
The main archways are chiseled with passages from the Holy Qur’an and the bold scrollwork against the awe inspiring patterns give a captivating feel to the interior – there really isn’t one inch of the Taj Mahal that isn’t picture perfect. Walking through the vast building and gardens was an experience we shall never forget. Romantic and tragic in its stance the Taj Mahal is the truest example of one mans undying labour of love.
Words By Sophie Maguire